COVID-19 FAQs

Page updated: July 28, 2021 at 5:02 p.m. 

COVID-19 Vaccine

Visit our vaccine page for more information.

Reopening Whatcom County

Effective June 30, businesses, recreation sites, and venues will be open at full capacity (but they must meet workplace safety requirements).The one exception is large indoor events hosting 10,000 or more people. Those will be open at 75% capacity. 

The mask mandate is still in effect and unvaccinated people still need to wear masks in most indoor locations outside the home. See our masking page for more details. 

Employers and employees who have questions about the new reopening plan can submit an inquiry to the state’s Business Response Center.

To find out more, visit www.coronavirus.wa.gov.

How can I get PPE? 

  • The state has been working on obtaining and distributing PPE throughout Washington. Information about PPE supplies and distribution, including a breakdown by county, is available on the Washington State coronavirus website.
  • Masks are being distributed to local businesses by area Chambers of Commerce. Please visit the Bellingham Regional Chamber website to check available supplies.

Exposure & Illness

I’m afraid I might have been exposed, what should I do?

You generally need to be in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to get infected. Close contact is defined as being within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of about 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.

If you’re unvaccinated and you’ve been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 you should:

If you’re fully vaccinated and you've been in close contact, you should still seek testing right away. Monitor yourself for symptoms and follow quarantine recommendations if symptoms develop. 

What should I do if I was in close contact with someone with COVID-19 but I am not sick?

If you’re unvaccinated, you should quarantine at home and away from others. Current quarantine recommendations are to stay in quarantine for 14 days after your last contact. This is the safest option. Monitor your symptoms during this time, and if you have any COVID-19 symptoms during the 14 days, get tested.

If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to quarantine if you aren’t showing symptoms, but you should still seek testing. Monitor yourself for symptoms, and follow quarantine recommendations if symptoms develop. 

More information about what to if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 is available in these recommendations (PDF)

What should I do if I'm sick?

  • If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones, get tested as soon as possible, whether or not you're fully vaccinated. For more information on how to get tested, visit our COVID-19 testing page
  • Stay home and take care of yourself as you would for a cold or flu. Stay home away from others until 24 hours after your fever is gone and symptoms are better and it has been 10 days since your symptoms started.
  • If you can’t isolate or quarantine safely at home, you can stay at the county’s isolation/quarantine facility at no cost to you. We will help arrange for a stay at the facility.
  • If you have symptoms and need medical care, call ahead to your regular provider before going into a clinic or other health care facility. If you need emergency medical care, call 911.

If you develop any of these emergency warning signs* for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
  • Confusion.
  • Bluish lips or face.

*This list is not all-inclusive. Talk to your medical provider about any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: Notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before medical help arrives. 

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Quarantine is for people who:

  • Had direct exposure to the virus by being a close contact of someone with confirmed COVID-19
  • Don't have symptoms 
  • Have not tested positive for COVID-19. 

People who quarantine stay home and avoid contact with anyone who is not a household member. This is important because a person can be contagious before symptoms begin. 

Isolation is for people who:

  • Have either tested positive or show symptoms of COVID-19. 

People who go into isolation need to avoid contact with all others, including household members. If possible, people in isolation should stay in a separate room, use a separate bathroom, and have meals prepared for and brought to them. 

People who cannot isolate or quarantine safely in their home can stay at the county’s isolation/quarantine facility at no cost to them. We will help arrange for a stay at the facility.

If I come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 after I’ve been fully vaccinated, do I still have to quarantine?

You don’t have to quarantine following a known exposure if all of the following are true:

  • You’ve received the final dose in your vaccine series at least 2 weeks ago.
  • You don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19.

If it’s been less than two weeks since the final dose in your vaccine series, you will need to quarantine if you’ve been exposed to someone known to have COVID-19. If you develop symptoms - whether or not you’re fully vaccinated - you will need to isolate yourself and seek testing immediately. 

For more information about isolation and quarantine, see the CDC’s Duration of Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19.

For more information about quarantine and isolation considerations for fully vaccinated individuals, check out the CDC’s Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.

What should I do if I am sick with COVID-19 and am pregnant or caring for a baby?

For more information about COVID-19 and pregnancy, refer to this handout from the Washington State Department of Health. 

When is it OK to stop home isolation after having COVID-19?

If you have been isolating at home, you can end your isolation when both of these things are true:

  • It has been at least 24 hours since you recovered. This means you no longer have a fever, you aren't taking medicine for a fever, and your cough or shortness of breath have gotten better.
  • It has been at least 10 days since your symptoms first appeared.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 but did not had any symptoms, you can end home isolation when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of your first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test. 
  • You have not developed any symptoms of illness.

Additional information on preventing the spread of COVID-19 for your household members, intimate partners, and caregivers is available from the CDC.  

Guidelines for Returning to Work after Illness or Exposure

I was exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19. When can I go back to work?

The return to work procedure for (non-healthcare) workers who are close contacts of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 varies between critical infrastructure workers (who work for essential businesses) and workers at non-essential businesses.

  • If you work in a business that is considered non-essential, you should quarantine as soon as you know you have been exposed. We will likely recommend you get tested between three and seven days after exposure. If you do not test positive, you will remain in quarantine until you are released from your quarantine by the health department. Quarantine generally lasts 14 days from the date of exposure.  
  • If you work in a business that is essential, you may be allowed to return to work during your quarantine period under certain circumstances. We will work with you and your employer to provide information, support and technical assistance to help you return to work safely. When not at work, you must still remain in quarantine until you are released from your quarantine by the health department.
  • If you are fully vaccinated, you may immediately return to work following a known exposure.

I was sick with COVID-19. When can I go back to work?

All non-healthcare workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are considered "probable" cases must be excluded from work and may not return until they are released from isolation by the Health Department.

  • Symptomatic workers must remain in isolation until:
    • It’s been at least 24 hours with no fever, without using fever-reducing medication.
    • Their symptoms have improved.
    • It's been at least 10 days since their symptoms started.
  • Asymptomatic workers must remain in isolation until: 
    • It's been at least 10 days from the date of their first positive COVID-19 test.
    • They have had no further symptoms.

You do not need a negative test to return to work.

I tested positive for COVID-19, and I’m a healthcare worker. When can I go back to work?

For healthcare workers with mild to moderate illness, you may return to work when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared and, 
  • At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications and 
  • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.

For asymptomatic healthcare workers:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of your first positive viral diagnostic test.

For healthcare workers with severe to critical illness, or who are severely immunocompromised: 

  • At least 20 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
  • At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications and 
  • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.

You should also:

  • Be restricted from contact with severely immunocompromised patients (e.g., transplant, hematology-oncology) until all symptoms are completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer

I was exposed to someone with COVID-19, and I am a healthcare worker. What should I do?

As of March 10, 2021, fully vaccinated healthcare workers do not need to be restricted from work, with some exceptions. For a list of exceptions and additional information, refer to the CDC’s Updated Healthcare Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations in Response to COVID-19 Vaccination page

If you’ve been exposed and you’re not yet fully vaccinated, you should actively monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, but can return to work provided you:

  • Adhere to cough etiquette and hand hygiene
  • Wear a face mask at all times while in the healthcare facility until 14-days after the date of exposure.

If you start to experience symptoms, you should go home immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

Do I need a negative test to return to work?

No. Unless you have a severely weakened immune system or you have experienced a serious case of COVID-19, you do not need a negative test result to return to work. 

Insurance Coverage and Costs

How much does testing cost?

If you have insurance: 

  • Most health insurance plans will cover the cost of testing for COVID-19. Insurance plans regulated by the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner are required to waive co-pays and deductibles for anyone requiring testing for COVID-19. However, if you’re seeking testing for travel or another reason not related to COVID-19 illness, your insurance company may charge you. The CDC currently advises against travelling for any reason if you aren’t fully vaccinated.
  • Check with your insurance provider about coverage for testing and associated visits. 
  • If you believe you have wrongly been charged for a COVID-19 testing-associated visit, you can file a complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.  
  • Most health insurance plans will cover testing and treatment for medically-necessary services related to COVID-19. If you need medical treatment for COVID-19, copays and deductibles will still apply.

If you do not have insurance:

  • You do not have to pay for a COVID-19 test; however, if you're seeking testing for travel or another reason not related to COVID-19 illness, your insurance may charge you. The CDC currently advises against traveling for any reason if you aren't fully vaccinated. Search our list of testing locationsto find one where insurance is not required.
  • All uninsured Washington residents can see if they qualify for special enrollment in the Washington Health Benefits Exchange, or Apple Health. You can visit the Health Benefits Exchange website or call 1-855-923-4633; TTY: 1-855-627-9604 for more information. 
  • Unity Care NW and SeaMar community health centers have state-trained insurance navigators for the state Health Plan Finder website. Call their offices to ask for help.
    • Unity Care NW’s Outreach and Enrollment Office: 1-360-788-2669 
    • SeaMar: 1-855-289-4503; Monday - Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wearing a Cloth Face Covering (Cloth Mask)

Where can I find information about using cloth face coverings?

Disease Investigation and Reporting

What happens when a contact tracer calls me?

Contact tracers, or case/contact investigators (CCIs) call people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts. 

They talk with each person who has received a positive COVID-19 test to find out:

  • Where they were during their infectious period.
  • Who they may have had contact with for more than 15 minutes in a space of less than 6 feet.

Once we know this information, we reach out to each person who is a close contact to:

  • Let them know of their potential exposure to the disease.
  • Give them instructions about how to prevent infecting others.
  • Explain what they can do to take care of themselves.

CCIs will ask a few identifying questions: 

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address 
  • Phone number

CCIs will never ask for your: 

  • Financial information.
  • Immigration status.
  • Social security number.
  • Fees or payment associated with contact tracing.

For more information on how to avoid scammers, visit Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information: Help COVID-19 contact tracers, not scammers.

To find out more, see our COVID-19 Case Investigation fact sheet.

I know I had contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Why haven’t I been contacted?

Identifying close contacts and informing them to stay home and monitor for symptoms is an important public health response. If you haven't been contacted, there may be a couple of reasons why:   

  • You are only considered a close contact if you have been with a confirmed case within six feet for more than 15 minutes over the course of 24 hours.
  • The person with COVID-19 might not have told us about their contact with you. If you are concerned that you could be sick with COVID-19, you should quarantine yourself and make a plan to get tested.
  • You may get a text indicating you are a close contact and can report any symptoms through the Sara Alert system. Learn more about how Sara Alert works here: https://saraalert.org/how-sara-alert-works/ .

If you have questions, you can call us at 360-778-6100.

What details do you share about a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in our community?

Data regarding confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community can be found on our COVID-19 Data Dashboard. We protect private health information and only share limited details about COVID-19 cases.

Why aren’t you reporting the numbers of patients who have recovered?

We get this question a lot. The main reasons are:

  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 are not required to report to the health department or to their healthcare provider when they have recovered. 
  • It’s likely that many people are recovering without even realizing that they’ve even been infected. Some people who become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 show few or no symptoms and therefore are not tested in the first place. Since we can’t know how many people have been infected, we can’t know how many have recovered, and any data we give on recovery rates would be inaccurate. 

COVID-19 Symptoms and Severity

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of coronavirus may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

How severe is COVID-19?

The vast majority of people with novel coronavirus infection do not require medical care or hospitalization. A smaller percentage of people get severely ill with respiratory problems like pneumonia. According to the CDC, people most at risk for severe illness are:

  • People older than 65 years
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant people

While most people with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness. Even people who are not hospitalized and who have mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms. Learn more about long term symptoms on the CDC’s website.

Can people spread the virus before they develop symptoms?

Yes. COVID-19 can be spread by individuals who are not exhibiting typical symptoms. In some cases, the individual may not have developed symptoms yet, and in other cases, people may carry and spread the virus without ever experiencing symptoms.

About COVID-19 Variants of Concern

What are Variants of Concern?

Variants of concern are newly evolved strains, or variants, of COVID-19 that may be more highly transmissible, cause more severe illness, or resist vaccination. New variants make up the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in Washington state. 

Five variants of concern have been identified in Washington State as of June 22, 2021. Those variants are:

  • Alpha, or B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom. This variant spreads more easily and may be more likely to cause severe illness or death than other variants. This variant is currently the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Washington State. All vaccines currently in use have proven highly effective at preventing infection and transmission of this variant. 
  • Beta, or B.1.351, first detected in South Africa. Some evidence suggests that the vaccines currently in use in the United States may be less effective against this variant. However, COVID-19 vaccines are still effective at preventing severe illness and death from this strain.
  • Gamma, or P.1, first identified in Brazil. This virus has 17 unique mutations, and there’s some evidence suggesting some of these mutations help the virus evade COVID-19 antibodies, both natural and vaccine-made. COVID-19 vaccines are still very effective at preventing severe illness and death.
  • Epsilon, or B.1.427 and B.1.429, first detected in California. Both of these strains may be more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain and some antibody treatments may be less effective with these variants, although more research is needed to confirm these observations.
  • Delta, or B.1.617.2, first detected in India. Initial evidence suggests the Delta variant is even more transmissible than variant Alpha. Fortunately, all COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US have proven effective against this variant.

For more information about new COVID-19 variants, visit DOH's COVID-19 Variants page.

How can I protect myself from new COVID-19 variants?

The good news is that all the prevention strategies we know work against the original COVID-19 strain work against these variants too. Take the following precautions to protect yourself against variants of concern:

  • Get vaccinated for COVID-19. The vaccines are all very effective at preventing infection, severe illness and death, even with variants of concern. Widespread vaccination will also help prevent the development of new, potentially more serious variants of concern.
  • If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, then masks, physical distancing, and limited social gatherings (especially indoors) are your best defenses against variants of concern.